THE BLOG

The Year Hate Went Mainstream

17/02/2017 15:42 GMT | Updated 17/02/2017 15:57 GMT

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In a year dominated by the UK's vote to leave the European Union and the election of Donald Trump, there were mixed fortunes for Britain's far right. For them it was a year of further marginalisation, convictions and bans punctuated only by extreme acts of violence - such as the horrific murder of Jo Cox.

2016 was also a year where a new far-right threat became more evident, one that was at the heart of the 'fake news' phenomenon played out largely on social media and to an international audience.

That's according to our new 76-page report, State of Hate 2017, the most comprehensive look at far-right extremism in the UK and across Europe.

Violence in 2017

The year started with a violent confrontation in Dover, where fascists and anti-fascists clashed at a National Front march, which led to the jailing of over 50 far-right activists. It ended with the leader of the anti-Muslim outfit, Britain First, being sent to prison and the nazi grouplet National Action (NA) banned as a terrorist organisation by the British government.

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While some dismissed the banning of NA as a PR stunt - the first time a far-right movement had been proscribed since World War Two - the truth is that the authorities felt compelled to act as a result of NA's increasingly violent rhetoric and emerging evidence that some activists were trying to encourage younger recruits to carry out acts of terrorism.

However, while the ban has effectively shut down the organisation, the people within it and the networks in which they operate continue.

Far-right and radical-right parties

UKIP continued to marginalise traditional far-right parties, with groups like the British National Party (BNP) struggling to maintain any significant presence.

While some within far-right circles hoped that the EU Referendum result would lead to the collapse of UKIP and open a space for a racial nationalist party, this has failed to materialise.

However, all is not well for UKIP either. Former leader Nigel Farage and millionaire backer Arron Banks are increasingly operating parallel to the party. Meanwhile, the Brexit vote result has seen a drop in UKIP's electoral support as some of its voters obviously feel "the job is done", while others believe that Theresa May's government has assumed much of UKIP's agenda.

More significantly, UKIP is in a financial mess, struggling to raise funds and facing EU demands to pay back misused funds.

With UKIP likely to struggle to defend the 121 wards - achieved during the party's first electoral breakthrough in 2013 - in the 2017 county council elections, success in the forthcoming Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election has become vital for both new leader Paul Nuttall and his party.

It is abundantly clear that there will be compromises over Brexit and this, coupled with rising economic anxiety and probable inability of the government to reduce immigration substantially, could lead to mounting disenchantment and anger. With the Labour Party currently in turmoil, it will be a UKIP-type party that benefits.

Whether that party is actually UKIP remains to be seen.

The "Alt-Right"

2016 saw the emergence and increasing impact of British alt-right and far right bloggers and vloggers.

Among these is Milo Yiannopoulos, who is heavily involved in the far-right-friendly Breitbart News network, and Battersea-based vlogger Paul Watson, who is enmeshed in the conspiracy website InfoWars. Watson, with 451,000 Twitter followers and 717,722 subscribers on YouTube, was one of the main figures behind fake news/conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton having debilitating health issues in the run up to the US election, including the disgusting "Is Hillary Dying?" hoax. His videos were viewed millions of times and were even taken up by Fox News.

While the Alt-Right is generally a US phenomenon, a similar trend has been growing in the UK under the name New Right. One of its expressions, The London Forum, is now regularly attended by over 100 people and new groups have formed in the South West, Yorkshire and Scotland. Last year, saw expansion of the Forum network into America.

Also intervening in the US elections was former Britain First leader Jim Dowson. From his new Hungarian office, in the centre of Budapest, Dowson set up a series of US-focused websites with the sole intent of denigrating Hillary Clinton and promoting Donald Trump. He also developed ties with Russians who had connections to people in the Kremlin.

Dowson, with former BNP leader Nick Griffin, spent much of 2016 building an international network of far-right parties, militia groups and religious extremists. Most worrying have been his growing links with people and organisations with links to the Russian state.

Similarly, the presence of Polish far-right groups - such as National Rebirth of Poland and Polish C18 and pro-Ukrainian paramilitaries in the UK such as the leaders of the Misanthropic Division - brings a new level of extremism and experience to British far-right activists.

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Assault on liberal democracy

The Trump administration's mainstreaming of anti-muslim hatred, the increased political impetus of far-right parties in parts of western Europe, the activities of alt-right activists spreading prejudice and fake news online and authoritarian regimes becoming more confident in central and Eastern Europe, all show we are living in very dangerous and uncertain times.

These right-wing forces, coupled with Russia's continued attempts at interference in world politics, are challenging the foundations of the liberal democracy that was largely created as a result of the horrors of WWII.

Human rights, equality legislation and the collective will to intervene to stop genocides and human suffering around the globe are all now being challenged.

The British far right is still a bit part player in this wider picture but, in its many guises, it is still dangerous. The threats lie in increased far-right violence and terrorism, to the vloggers and social media networkers of the Alt-Right who will have an increasingly influential role on the shape of events.

2016 was the year of Brexit and Trump's election. 2017 could turn out even more tumultuous.

Download our new report State of Hate 2017